Listeners to Radio Radio were the first to catch wind that something might be up. Shortly before 10pm local time, Andrea Stramaccioni had been mid-interview with the Italian talk radio station when he cut things short and left. “I have to take a very important phone call,” explained the man who had one day earlier coached Inter’s youth team to victory in the final of the inaugural NextGen Series, an unofficial Champions League for Under-19s.
The call was from Massimo Moratti, the club’s owner, asking Stramaccioni if he would consider taking charge of the first team for the remainder of the season. Just a few minutes earlier Moratti had concluded a phone call with Claudio Ranieri, in which the incumbent manager was informed that his services were no longer required. Defeat to Juventus on Sunday night, Inter’s eighth loss in 12 games, had proved to be the final straw.
Ranieri’s disappointment may have been heightened by the knowledge that his team’s performance against Juventus had been their best in some months; only a string of startling saves from Gigi Buffon denying Inter a healthy half-time lead. But he cannot have been too surprised at his fate. With nine games remaining in the Serie A season, Inter sit eighth in Serie A, 22 points behind their league-leading city rivals Milan.
Changing managers, furthermore, is what Moratti does. Ranieri was already the owner’s 17th manager in as many years since he took charge of the club, and his fourth in two seasons since the departure of José Mourinho to Madrid. The Tinkerman’s predecessor, Gian Piero Gasperini, had been appointed just last summer on a two-year deal but sacked after a grand total of five games, one of them the preseason SuperCup.
Had Ranieri flicked on the news yesterday afternoon he might have been reassured by the statements left by Moratti as the owner headed into a meeting with directors Stefano Filucchi, Marco Branca and Piero Ausilio: he responded to a reporter’s question over whether the manager would still be in charge at the end of the season with an “I think so”. When Moratti left that meeting a few hours later, he told journalists: “I have nothing to add to what I said before”.
That turned out to be a lie, though you could understand Moratti preferring to give the news to Ranieri directly rather than via the press. The latter would only receive confirmation of the moves much later in the evening via a statement posted on the club’s website, which thanked Ranieri and his staff before offering an “affectionate ‘break a leg’” to Stramaccioni.
The new man will be formally unveiled at a press conference to be held at 5pm local time (11:00 AM EST), though at this stage journalists might have more questions for Moratti than Stramaccioni himself. It is not so surprising, after all, that a club’s youth team coach might leap at the chance of working with the first-team. It is rather more bold for the owner of one of the biggest clubs in Europe to hand the reins to a man with no previous experience of coaching a senior side.
Stramaccioni will in fact need to have Giuseppe Baresi alongside him on the bench, as he does not yet have the licence required to coach at this level. Nor has he played at it. Considered a promising young centre-back in his teenage years, Stramaccioni was on the books at Bologna but suffered a career-ending knee injury before he ever made it up to the senior side.
Instead he threw himself into coaching, winning a provincial title with the Under-16 side Zeta Sport (a local team based on the outskirts of Rome) then a national one, as well as a pair of regional championships, with the Under-14s at Romulea. That brought him to the attention of Roma, the team he had always supported. There he won further national titles with the Under-14s in 2007 and the Under-16s in 2010.
Likened to a José Mourinho of youth football in the press, it is little wonder that Inter should want him to take over their Under-20 side when Claudio Pea departed to become manager of Sassuolo’s first-team the following summer. By that point they had been pursuing him for more than a year, and faced significant competition from Arrigo Sacchi, who wanted Stramaccioni for Italy’s Under-17s. Roma did not want him to leave, but could not promote him to their own Under-20 side as that job was already held by Daniele De Rossi’s father, Alberto.
There is no doubting that he is a talented coach. The Mourinho comparison extends beyond mere victories to a similarly obsessive nature, preparing matches with a meticulousness that La Repubblica have described as “maniacal”. With the youth team he would have comprehensive dossiers compiled on every opponent, sending out scouts armed with hidden video cameras to their matches and using the footage to compile precise instructions on each player’s tendencies in myriad different situations, as well as providing notes on how each is best countered.
He is also renowned for his training ground routines at set-pieces—he devised more than 30 different ‘plays’ that can be deployed at free-kicks and corners—as well as an ability to spot talents in players that had hitherto gone unnoticed. Unafraid to have players try out in unfamiliar positions, he has had great success at Inter converting Simone Pecorini from a midfielder into a right-back, just as he did at Roma switching Federico Viviani from trequartista into a deep-lying playmaker.
Despite it all, though, no-one would have expected him to end up in situation like this so quickly. At 36, Stramaccioni will be the youngest manager in Serie A at the helm of the division’s oldest side. He is two years younger than the club’s captain, Javier Zanetti. The newspaper La Stampa likened him to a rookie gymnast who had “launched into a triple pike” which nobody knows if he will be able to land.
The optimists don’t care, pointing out that this season has already been a disaster for Inter and that his appointment at least sends out a positive message. “More than a manager, Andrea Stramaccioni is an idea,” writes Andrea Monti in Gazzetta dello Sport. “The idea is that Inter are a next generation side and that should be a starting point. At this moment, and given the recent results, it isn’t such a bad message.”
But how long will Stramaccioni really be given to instil such ideas? Already the papers are thick with speculation about who will replace him in the summer with familiar names such as Marcelo Bielsa and André Villas-Boas at the fore. There is no real sense that this is the beginning of something long-term for Inter, that Moratti has turned over a new leaf.
We may hear in the coming hours or days that this time things are different, that this is more than a temporary appointment, but Moratti himself has acknowledged his own lack of patience. Just this month he told reporters that: “One sensible idea might be to start thinking about the future and not just in immediate terms, building a young team. The problem is that if things aren’t going well after three games you begin to regret it…”
And when Moratti has regrets, it is always the manager who pays. Albert Einstein defined stupidity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”, yet the decision to make this change is exactly that—just the latest manifestation of the owner’s unending belief that he is only ever one managerial change away from getting it right, despite the fact that Inter’s problems in reality run a whole lot deeper.
Were he to truly stick his neck out and commit to a long-term rebuilding project under Stramaccioni that might be a different matter, an extremely bold move given the manager’s inexperience, but at least an attempt to instil change. That cannot be achieved simply by jamming him into the hotseat for nine games.
“Stramaccioni is coming in because he is readily available, because they needed to get Ranieri out immediately, because Juventus just landed two punches which hurt,” writes Fabrizio Bocca in his blog for La Repubblica. “Inter are the poster-child for an Italian football which considers managers to be an optional item, an accessory that you can change as easily as the battery of a dead mobile phone.”
While the appointment is certainly an intriguing one, and undoubtedly smarter than committing this late in the season to a big contract to a Villas-Boas or similar, Inter have reached the point where a new battery will no longer suffice. For real progress to be made, they need to think about formatting the whole device.